What Are Peptides? What To Know About This Anti-Aging Ingredient

Find out more about peptides and different skincare products that have these amino acids.

You may have heard about cosmetic and skincare products containing an ingredient that fights premature aging: Peptides.

Essentially, peptides are small proteins. And according to an article published in 2021 in Current Protein & Peptide Science, peptides have many benefits in skincare. Some of their supposed benefits include protecting the skin barrier, moisturizing, shielding the skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) damage, fighting acne, and combating fine lines and wrinkles.

So, how exactly do peptides smooth out your skin? Here's what you should know about peptides and some products you can add to your routine.

Photograph by Peter Ardito

What Are Peptides?

Peptides are short chains of amino acids. And amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute

In cosmetic or skincare products, peptides can mimic the protein sequences in collagen and elastin and stimulate production, said Geeta Yadav, MD, a dermatologist and founder of Facet Dermatology.

Essentially, peptides are the proteins that keep skin your looking youthful. 

"Many peptides are small enough to penetrate the skin," said Blair Murphy-Rose, MD, a dermatologist at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York and clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Since peptides are small and can penetrate the skin, they can have a more profound impact than skincare formulas containing larger molecules. The latter skincare formulas simply sit on the skin's surface.

What Do Peptides Do?

"In skincare, peptides are best known for stimulating skin repair and inhibiting the signs of aging," explained Dr. Yadav. 

According to a study published in 2020 in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, using peptides for two weeks may reduce the appearance of aging skin on the face and neck.

Peptides generally work by increasing collagen and elastin production, per a review published in 2012 in Experimental Dermatology

Peptides also support a healthy skin barrier and promote the healing of wounds. Dr. Murphy-Rose added that some even have a mild Botox-like effect that will relax muscles and treat fine lines.

How Do You Use Peptides?

Many anti-aging formulas are packed with peptides. The best thing about them is that they play well with active ingredients, said Gloria Lu and Victoria Fu, skincare chemists and co-founders of Chemist Confessions, Inc. 

Often, you'll see anti-aging formulas pair with vitamin C and hyaluronic acid. According to an article published in 2017 in Nutrients, vitamin C can slow aging, prevent sun damage, and improve the appearance of wrinkles. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant, which means it can fight off any pollution that comes into contact with your skin.

And hyaluronic acid provides hydration to the outer layer of the skin, per the National Library of Medicine.

It's most important to use products that have long-lasting contact on the skin. Dr. Murphy-Rose explained those products give the peptides enough time to go to work. So, opt for serums and moisturizers as opposed to cleansers.

If you want to try peptides, here are some products you can add to your routine to reduce those fine lines and the appearance of aging skin.

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Neutrogena Rapid Firming Peptide Multi Action Eye Cream

This eye cream from Neutrogena is a wake-up call for tired eyes. It is a lightweight formula that targets dark circles while also reducing puffiness. It's made to smooth the delicate area around the eye through hydration.

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Aurelia the Probiotic Concentrate

Aurelia London's probiotic peptide complex—derived from milk extract—will transform your skin and help kick-start collagen and hyaluronic acid production for smoother, more hydrated skin.

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Thrive Causemetics Timeless Ambition Power 7-Peptide Firming Moisturizer

Thrive Causemetics' easily absorbed gel cream moisturizer will instantly soften your skin. Plus, it offers long-term plumping, a boost of hydration, and increased elasticity thanks to peptides and ceramides.

Ceramides are compounds that are in the epidermal layer of the skin. Ceramides play an essential role in the skin barrier's function, according to a review published in 2014 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

A Quick Review

Peptides are small proteins that penetrate the skin to deliver excellent benefits, including fighting fine lines and wrinkles. 

Opt for serums and moisturizers instead of cleansers if you want to try skincare products containing peptides. The longer you give peptides time to work on your skin, the more benefits you'll reap.

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